With the lack of snow cover this winter, growers are concerned how their winter wheat will fair this spring. Decisions made during spring assessment will not only impact this fall’s harvest, but also this fall’s seeding season.
With a significant increase in winter wheat acres planted in 2011 and below normal precipitation across the Prairies this winter, there are a great number of farmers questioning what to do with their fall-seeded crop. As the winter was extremely mild, winter wheat fields should recover nicely and produce profitable crops for producers.
“Depending on the spring weather conditions, a stand that survived the winter may require time to recover and resume growth after dormancy,” says Ken Gross, head of upland restoration for Ducks Unlimited Canada in Brandon. “As a general rule of thumb, we should delay spring assessment until most other spring seeding is complete. This means assessing the winter wheat crop between May 15 and May 25, which still gives enough time to reseed if necessary. This will give the crop a chance to recover.
Assessing the crop condition earlier than May is difficult as brown leaf material in early spring may not be a sign of winterkill and green leaves may not mean the crop has survived. The best way to properly assess individual plants is to examine their crown for growth.
When it’s time, determine the crown health by digging up several plants at various locations across the field. The crowns should be placed on a moist paper towel in a warm room with good light exposure for about two hours. A damaged crown will turn brown, while a healthy crown system will be white in colour.
To get an idea of the worst case scenario, take small plants from areas with the poorest snow cover. If these plants survive, the rest should be fine.
The optimum winter wheat plant stand is 20 to 30 plants per square foot. Winter wheat has the ability to tiller relatively aggressively, therefore stands between eight to 10 plants per square foot can still produce an adequate crop. The challenge when assessing stand establishment is often the variability in the plant stand across the whole field. In situations where the stand is thin or weak, a more intense management strategy is required.
“Application of nitrogen early in the spring will encourage the remaining plants to tiller,” says Gross. “A thin plant stand is typically less competitive against weeds, and growers may find it beneficial to pay more attention to broadleaf and grassy-weed control.” Don’t wait to see if your stand survived before applying nitrogen. Research shows that thin stands yield significantly higher if nitrogen is applied early versus the four leaf stage.
Only when the stand is properly assessed and deemed unacceptable should a producer terminate the winter wheat crop and reseed. If this occurs, consider the following management practices:
• Spray out the winter wheat as the crop will draw on moisture and nutrient reserves.
• Avoid replanting to cereals, especially wheat. Wheat streak mosaic may carryover from infected winter wheat into spring-seeded cereals. If replanting wheat, a 10- to 14-day window should be left before reseeding to avoid problems.
• Remember to credit any spring applied nitrogen to the following crop.
For more information, visit GrowWinterWheat.ca or call 1-866-251-3825.
The shared vision of Ducks Unlimited Canada and Bayer CropScience for the future of agriculture includes a stewardship model that recognizes the agricultural productivity of farmland while retaining and improving the habitat available to North America’s waterfowl and other wildlife. As a result, Bayer and DUC have joined together to identify, research and promote cropping system changes that benefit the conservation of our natural resources in an economically viable way. The first step in this relationship is the Winter Cereals: Sustainability in Action project.